Monday, September 11, 2006

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón

Art Spiegelman’s Maus started the quasi-mainstream trend of utilizing the graphic novel as means to retell historical events. In the years that followed, we’ve been graced with such powerful graphic memoirists/biographers such as Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) to name a few. It was only a matter of time before the 9/11 graphic novels emerged.

Jacobson and Colón’s adaptation is one of these books. However, it does not tell a personal story like the earlier mentioned works. It instead translates the final report of the 9/11 Comission into what hopefully would reach a new audience. As Thomas H. Kean (Comission Chair and Drew University President) writes in the book’s forward, “…we felt strongly that one of the most important and tragic events of our nation’s history needed to be accessible to all.”

Not to say that the adaptation doesn’t do its job, but Jacobson and Colón may have benefited in approaching from a different angle. Upon opening the book, the reader is bombarded by claustrophobic, chaotic panels lacking any hint of chronological flow. Besides the multifarious graphs and charts implemented to outline the events leading up to, during, and after 9/11, it is fairly uncertain which panel flows into which. Should it be read from left to right, up to down, down to left? The implementation of signifiers (simple arrows, perhaps) may have solved the problem before print.

Stan Lee (Marvel Comics) writes, “Never before have I seen a nonfiction book as beautifully and compellingly written and illustrated as The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation.” I questioned Lee’s statement by page 26, in which the president receives a call from Condoleezza Rice. Bush stands intently; arms crossed, phone to his ear, almost as if he were an X-man. Rice’s bust is projected behind him in a gray hue, shouting into her cell phone as if she were Professor X contacting his students telepathically. Other scenes riddled with cheesy dialogue and narration come to mind: multiple narrative exclamations of “And we did nothing!”, Richard Clarke’s “I am obsessed with Bin Ladin.”, and Cheney balking at his television, “How the Hell could a plane—Oh, no! A second one!”

Despite the cheese and otherwise dry language, the adaptation succeeds in translating the report into a new medium. Will it be as memorable as Maus? Probably not. But it will at least become a mainstay coffee-table book, regardless of whether or not it’s actually read.

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